How Does Social Media Help Young Adults Become Politically Active?

26/10/2012 Taylor & Francis

Young adults speaking out about their political beliefs on websites, such as Facebook or blogs, are more likely to participate in public affairs, according to a study out of Washington State University.

The study, set to be published in November 2012 in Mass Communication and Society, analyzed the political involvement, online interaction, and something known as political efficacy of over 400 undergraduate college students. The researchers found that participants using different sources to express their political opinions were more likely to participate in public affairs such as paying attention to election information and staying informed about elections. Prior research has shown that the more informed a citizen is, the more likely they are to participate in elections. They also found that participants using traditional news sources, government sources, and candidate websites had higher levels of political efficacy, which is the belief that their participation matters.  

“In 2012, candidates have more channels to keep in touch with voters, such as Facebook, Twitter, and even Linkedin where presidential candidates have created their own profiles,” Yushu Zhou, one of the study’s authors said. “These new communication channels not only provide richer political information and interactive messages for voters, especially young voters, but also reshape the relationships between candidates and voters.”

Current presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney offer political websites and social networking sites in order to promote their campaigns. However, both candidates are not only utilizing social media, such as Facebook, but have also developed Tumblr, Spotify, and Flickr accounts. These are all websites that enable political engagement, and are typically used by young adults. The findings of this study become particularly significant as candidates continue to branch out into new forms of media.

“When young people are motivated, even blogs and social media can be important sources of information and contribute to their political participation,” Dr. Bruce Pinkleton, co-author of the study said. “Given the historically low levels of political participation among young people, this is an important finding. The more we can get people involved in the political process, the more likely we are to enjoy the benefits of a strong, healthy democracy.”

The article is entitled “Modeling the Effects of Political Information Source Use and Online Expression on Young Adults’ Political Efficacy.” Zhou and Pinkleton are from Stanford University and Washington State University respectively.

Full bibliographic information

Stephen D. Perry (Editor), Mass Communication and Society, Volume 15, Issue 5, 2012, ISSN 1520-5436 (Print), 1532-7825 (Online).
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